Stock Your Own Mexican Pantry for Everyday Cooking

Armed with the right Mexican pantry staples, you can whip up your favorite Mexican foods any time an antojito (craving) comes over you. With the right ingredients always at reach, breakfasts, appetizers, main meals, and desserts are only a few steps away.

Mexican foods, renowned for their vibrant flavors, are among the most beloved in the world. Although there is great legend and lore surrounding them, most recipes are actually not difficult to re-create at home. That is, as long as you have the genuine Mexican ingredients needed to make the best that this Latin American cuisine offers. A complete Mexican pantry is more than a cupboard of cans and dry ingredients. It will include fresh items stored in your freezer and refrigerator, seasonal produce to keep on your counters, a baking section, and if you're like us, many ingredients that grow in your garden.

mexican food stables on table
Blaine Moats

Your Long-Term Pantry

Here is where you'll store anything that will last for a very long time on a shelf, when properly packaged. Transfer grains and legumes into jars or bins with tight-fitting lids for longer storage.

Dried goods

Beyond cans and jars, these dried items are a must for creating your favorite Mexican-inspired recipes

  • Dried beans: black, pinto (the basis for our refried beans), small red, white
  • Dried corn husks to wrap tamales
  • Dried chiles such as:
    • Ancho
    • Chipotle
    • Guajillo
    • Mulato
    • Pasilla
  • Lentils

Grains

Of course you'll need rice to make tomatoey Mexican rice, but there are other grains to have on hand, too.

  • Dried hominy (maíz pozolero)
  • Assorted dried pastas (small pieces of vermicelli called fideos or angel hair pasta, spaghettini, tiny stars, elbows and shells for soups, macaroni, etc.)
  • Rice (long-grain and medium-grain white) for dishes such as red rice
mexican canned goods
Jason Donnelly

Canned and jar goods

The heart of any well-stocked Mexican pantry will include cans and jars of these common Mexican ingredients.

  • Bitter orange juice (Naranja Agria)
  • Canned corn
  • Canned fruits (mango, guava, peaches)
  • Canned Mexican hominy (avoid overprocessed ones that are snow white)
  • Canned tomatoes (whole, diced, and crushed)
  • Capers
  • Chipotles in adobo sauce
  • Cooked whole beans
  • Crabmeat
  • Evaporated milk
  • Fire-roasted tomatoes
  • Hot sauces (make sure to select Mexican brands)
  • Maggi sauce
  • Mole bases
  • Nopales (preserved cactus leaves)
  • Olives (green and green stuffed with pimentos)
  • Pickled chiles and pickled chiles in escabeche (usually serranos/jalapeños with vegetables)
  • Refried beans (pinto)
  • Roasted bell peppers
  • Roasted tomatillos
  • Salsa (or make your own)
  • Sardines
  • Soy sauce
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Tuna
  • Vinegars (apple cider, white, and pineapple)
  • Worcestershire Sauce

Your Short-Term Pantry:

Here is where you will keep assorted ingredients that will last only a few months or up to one year in storage and that you'll have to use and rotate more often.

  • Annatto/Achiote paste
  • Cooking oils (vegetable, olive oil) especially for frying foods such as these tacos
  • Corn tortillas
  • Dried fruits (apricots, prunes, raisins)
  • Dried shrimp (found in packets)
  • Dried spices (it is suggested you rotate these after a year)
    • Ground cumin and cumin seeds
    • Ground coriander
    • Stars of anise
    • Whole and ground anise seeds
    • Cloves (whole and ground)
    • Thyme
    • Mexican oregano (different from regular oregano, due to a citrusy and licorice flavor profile)
    • Dried chile powder (mostly Ancho, pasilla, chile pequín, and guajillo)
    • Allspice
    • Dried basil
    • Bay leaves
    • Dry avocado leaves
    • Dried hoja santa
    • Marjoram
    • Nutmeg
    • Salt and Pepper
  • Flour tortillas
  • Masa Harina
  • Mayonnaise
  • Prepared simmering sauces such as:
    • Red chile
    • Chile verde
    • Tomatillo
    • Enchilada
  • Tostada shells
  • Tortilla chips for dishes such as chilaquiles
  • Vegetable shortening

Cold Storage Mexican Foods

Your refrigerator and freezer are important elements of a proper pantry. Keep them stocked with key Mexican ingredients at all times; they will save you a last-minute trip to the store.

Refrigerated Foods

Here is where dairy products, fresh fruits, and the vegetables that need to keep cool will live until you're ready to use them. You'll have to rotate these as needed, so check expiration dates.

  • Butter
  • Cabbages
  • Cactus fruits/prickly pears (tuna)
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Chayote squash
  • Cheeses (such as crumbling cheese like Cotija and añejo; fresh cheese a.k.a. fresco; melting cheese such as asadero or panela and cream cheese)
  • Chiles such as
    • Poblanos
    • Jalapeños to make this delicious Pico de Gallo
    • Serranos
    • Anaheim
    • Habaneros
  • Citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, sour oranges)
  • Corn on the cob when in season
  • Crema (Mexican crème fraîche), crème fraîche, or sour cream
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggs
  • Fresh cactus leaves (nopales)
  • Fresh herbs (such as cilantro, parsley, and epazote)
  • Green beans
  • Green onions or scallions
  • Jícama
  • Lard (for up to 6 months)
  • Leeks
  • Long-stemmed onions (cebollas del país)
  • Mangos
  • Mexican beer for drinks like micheladas
  • Milk
  • Mushrooms
  • Pineapple
  • Radishes
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Strawberries
  • Winter squashes (calabaza)
  • Zucchini and summer squash
  • Zucchini flowers

Frozen Foods

Here is where you will store those ingredients that you purchase fresh or frozen. Some fresh ingredients will last much longer (sometimes, more than a year), when frozen. Select a drawer or section of the freezer to store your Mexican foods so they're always handy. Here are just some of what we keep in ours.

  • Baking flours (they will last indefinitely if frozen)
  • Banana leaves (sold frozen, for tamales)
  • Corn kernels and whole cobs
  • Dried yeast (it lasts indefinitely if frozen)
  • Huitlacoche (corn fungus)
  • Leaf lard (it will keep frozen for up to 2 years)
  • Masa harina (lasts up to 2 years if frozen)
  • Meats such as bacon, beef, chicken, goat (cabrito), lamb (carnero), Mexican chorizo, pork, and turkey
  • Nuts: (they will keep for up to 2 years when frozen)
    • Walnuts
    • Pecans
    • Almonds (slivered, whole, and sliced)
    • Peanuts (raw or unsalted and roasted)
    • Pine nuts
    • Cashews
  • Pomegranate seeds (for festive meals)
  • Seafood (mostly scallops and shrimp)
  • Seeds (we keep them in the freezer where they last up to 2 years)
    • Pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
    • Sesame seeds
colorful mexican produce
Jason Donnelly

Your Perishable Pantry Ingredients

There are always Mexican ingredients that are best bought fresh and that can keep on your counter for a few days. Fortunately, these are ingredients that you probably already use for your everyday cooking and that you will no doubt benefit from having on hand.

  • Avocados
  • Citrus (limes, lemons, oranges)
  • Mangoes
  • Onions (red and white)
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes (plum and slicing)
  • Tomatillos

From Your Garden

One of the best ways to make sure you have the freshest ingredients is to grow them yourself. Here are a few Mexican ingredients that we grow in our garden.

  • Apricots (chabacanos)
  • Bananas (for the leaves too, in zones 8 and warmer)
  • Cilantro (only during cold months)
  • Epazote (best grown in containers so it doesn't invade your garden; used to flavor beans and has an umami flavor that can be described as lemony and rubbery)
  • Garlic
  • Hot chiles: chiltepines, jalapeños, poblanos, serranos
  • Italian parsley
  • Mexican sour gherkins (cucamelons)
  • Mint (hierbabuena)
  • Onions (long-green stemmed)
  • Purslane (verdolagas)
  • Quince
  • Tomatoes (particularly round slicers, called "de bola" and plum tomatoes or "guajito")
  • Tomatillos
  • Watercress (berros)

Your Baking Pantry

Desserts deserve their own special category in a pantry filled with Mexican pantry essentials.

  • All-purpose flour
  • Almond extract
  • Anise extract
  • Assorted alcohols such as rum, orange liqueur, coffee liqueur
  • Assorted gelatin flavors and unflavored gelatin powder
  • Assorted marmalades (such as guava, mango, orange, strawberry, pineapple, apricot)
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Chocolate
    • Bittersweet chocolate bars
    • Cocoa nibs
    • Coconut extract
    • Ground raw cacao
    • Mexican chocolate rounds (pastillas)
  • Citrus extracts: orange and lemon
  • Cornstarch (fécula de maíz)
  • Granulated sugar
  • Guava and quince pastes (ates)
  • Mexican cinnamon (Ceylon cinnamon that is brittle so you can toast and blend it into powders. Don't use cassia cinnamon or you will break your appliances)
  • Mexican vanilla (pods and extract)
  • Unrefined sugars
    • Agave
    • Dark brown sugar
    • Honey
    • Piloncillo (unrefined sugar cones)
    • Pure cane sugar
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